Small Island

Small Island by Andrea Levy

Andrea Levy’s award winning novel Small Island was written in 2004 but continues to feature in the book world. Winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year, Orange Prize and the Commonwealth Writers Prize; it had also been made into a BBC adaption in 2009 and a stage production in 2019. It is part of the BBC 100 Novels that Shaped Our World list. Suffolk Library Reading Group thoroughly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it to other readers.

The novel is told through the voices of four characters living in 1948 post war London. Gilbert Joseph had served in the RAF during the war, and leaves his native Jamaica for a better life in the ‘mother country’ after it. He later brings his Jamaican wife Hortense to England. He rents a room with Queenie Bligh who takes in black lodgers while she waits for her husband Bernard, to return traumatised from fighting in the war.

And so is set a novel of contrasts and expectations. The marital relationship of Gilbert and Hortense is intricately contrasted against that of Queenie and Bernard. Both couples have expectations of each other, but also of the post-war society they find themselves in. London is not the place of new opportunities imagined from Jamaica, or the same place veterans expected to return to after the war. Levy portrays England as an uncomfortable racial melting pot. This is currently very relevant, as Gilbert and Hortense are of the Windrush generation and Levy’s attention to historical and linguistic detail makes the post war London of the book very realistic and believable. The novel is perfectly placed under the BBC’s heading of ‘Identity’ because the book challenges its characters, as well as us, to examine the ideas of race, gender and class expectations and prejudices.

A thought provoking book with an engaging story line, humour and drama. One I would highly recommend.

Submitted by Tinya